I’ve been on radio silence for the last few months as my life has been completely devoured by my new-ish job as a Hollywood personal assistant (still love it, though). England is everything I had hoped it would be, my job is more draining than initially anticipated, and (shame on me) I haven’t taken much time to write my own projects.
If I find myself with a surplus of free time, I’m most likely sleeping, patronizing Netflix as if it’s a paid profession, or journeying to as many historic mansions, National Trust houses, and destinations connected with British authors as I can squeeze into a day.
I have weird interests.
But I’m dusting off the old blog today because I am compelled to write about an occurrence on the London Underground that made me experience the entire, complex spectrum of emotions. Just this morning, after being harassed by some bozo that shouldn’t have affected me in the way he obviously has, all I could think to do was write about it.
So here we are.
Thanks for joining me.
I mentioned above that one of my favorite “English” pastimes has been to go on excursions to explore places connected to some of Great Britain’s most beloved writers. I’m hoping these jaunts give me inspiration and encouragement to sit my butt down and write.
So far in my travels, I’ve encountered Roald Dahl, Jane Austen, Lewis Caroll, and George Bernard Shaw—I plan to write about all of these adventures at length in a separate blog post. Austen and Dahl happen to hold the prestigious rankings of #2 and #3 (respectively) on my list of All-Time Favorite and most personally influential authors. The top spot is held by the blessedly prolific and munificent J.K. Rowling, and so I turned my travel intentions to the north: to Scotland.
The biggest difference between Rowling and the other authors on my list is that she’s still alive and kicking (which happens to be my favorite differentiation). Unlike the others, visiting her grave (thankfully) isn’t an option and attempting to visit her house is, to be blunt, creepy as hell (though, I wouldn’t put it above some of her other fans…). I’ve seen some “obsessive fan stuff” in my current line of work and it honestly boggles the mind.
But I heard tell of a coffee shop in Edinburgh, The Elephant House, that she frequented whilst writing the first few Harry Potter novels. My tipoff was confirmed when I visited the website and saw a link to a video of an interview that she gave there.
Destination locked in.
My boss gave me leave to go, I quickly surfed the web and found accommodation, purchased train tickets, and set my alarm clock for 4:30am for the next morning (Oy!). I would be departing from King’s Cross station which, as any HP fan will note, is the station Harry and his Hogwarts crew leave from to journey to and from school (from Platform 9¾!) .
This Rowling themed pilgrimage was off to an auspicious start.
I boarded my train into London at the crack of dawn with my headphones emitting the most pleasant and mellow melodies I could find in my iTunes library. Uneventful trip.
I boarded my first tube train to my transfer station with a gleam of excitement in my eye. Uneventful trip.
As I boarded the Victoria Line tube train from Oxford Circus to King’s Cross, I counted my stops so I’d know when to get off: there were two—not so bad, and I had plenty of time to get there.
The train was sparsely populated and so I chose a seat with no neighbors to the left or the right of it—basic train etiquette (or so I thought). No need to sit packed in together like sardines when there is plenty of space.
The 20-something man that plopped down next to me had other notions of societal norms. As soon as I felt his weight depress the seat directly to my left, I immediately thought: “fuck”.
An unusual reaction, you say? Not for most women, to be honest. I knew there could be only one reason he chose to sit so closely when the train boasted as much free space as the Oklahoma plains.
I kept my attention forward and my headphones in, giving no indication that I recognized the presence of a single soul in that rapidly moving silver box.
And then my peripheral vision signaled to me that he was trying to get my attention. Not wanting to make assumptions and act upon them (maybe he was about to tell me that I’d dropped something upon boarding the train?), I look over, keeping my headphones in place. You know about headphones, right–the international symbol for “DO NOT TALK TO ME”?
Yes, those headphones.
Anything he could desperately need to tell me (a total stranger), any possible emergency that could have sprung to life in that last few moments, should not take more than a few seconds for me to address. No need to pause my music.
“Can I talk to you right now?” is all I could discern from my subpar lip reading skills, to which I replied with a gentle and politely toned, “No, thank you”. Overly polite, you say? Former nanny habits (of dealing with annoying children) die hard.
I return my attention to face front, note that there are two passengers in front of me and one to my right two seats over, and look up at the map of the underground line posted near the ceiling.
Arrive at Stop #1: Warren Street Underground Station. One more stop and then King’s Cross.
He gets louder. I know because I haven’t adjusted the volume of my music, but now I can hear him clearly.
“Oh I can’t…? I can’t, ok well I can respect that.”
My inner monologue counts my lucky stars that he received my crystal clear messages, a celebration that proved entirely premature when next he pulls out his mobile (cell phone for readers back home), and begins a conversation at the same loud volume.
Except we’re deep in the tunnels of the underground. There is no cellular reception.
“Oh, Christ,” I think before taking a deep breath and fortifying my courage. “He’s a nut job—this is just what I need when my awareness of danger is already heightened by the two terrorists attacks that have occurred in England since my arrival.”
“Nah, Bruv, I’m so fucking tired of girls that act like that—yeah, black girls that act like white girls. Fucking sick of it!”
Hold. The. (Disconnected) Phone.
Now I realize that douche bags exist in every color and creed, and normally his black race would have nothing to do with the price of tea in China—or England. These people love them some tea.
But apparently, my inattention to him is entirely racially motivated. For those of you that don’t know me personally, I’m an ethnic minority in the US, a mix of several, in fact. I also look exceedingly young for my 29 years (teenaged to most strangers), which may have encouraged his boldness.
But I’m not sure what it was about me that indicated that I was trying to act “white”. Could it have been my thick rimmed, by all accounts, “nerdy” glasses? Could it have been my jeans and purple, cable knit sweater? It couldn’t have been my diction; I’d only uttered three words since boarding that train. Was it possible that he had X-Ray vision and could see inside of my overly full backpack: my journal, toothbrush, t-shirt and underwear, Harry Potter novel, and laptop somehow acting as tools to help me (unsuccessfully) pass as Caucasian?
Whatever it was, he continued his phone conversation with himself and moved over two seats to his left.
“At least he’s away from me”, I thought.
He’s still cursing up a storm, bemoaning the fact that I haven’t seen fit to give him my attention THAT HE IS NOT AT ALL ENTITLED TO.
None of the other passengers have said a thing in the otherwise silent car, though several seats down, other passengers are staring at my own personal Mad Man Admirer.
I think about moving further down the train car, but you don’t turn your back on crazy. I’m afraid he’ll follow me making the relocation moot.
I consider completely alighting at the next station and either moving to the next car over or waiting for another train. Then I remember that it’s my GOTDANG right to be on that train and to exist without other people DEMANDING my time and focus. I sit up straighter, my lips tightly sealed, my feet planted firmly on the floor.
Arrive at Stop #2: Euston Underground Station. Next one is King’s Cross.
One of the passengers in front of me leaves the train.
Then I hear, “Excuse me! EXCUSE ME!” and I know that he’s not ready to give up, he isn’t saying “excuse me” to politely wait for me to respond— he thinks that continuing to harangue me will result in some sort of change of heart and I’ll fling myself into his arms.
Then, out of the corner of my eye, I see him lean over the two seats separating us, reach his arm out, and touch my shoulder.
I can’t describe to you the blood red rage that coursed through my veins at that precise moment. Before I could even think things through, I recoiled, faced him fully, made intense and angry eye contact and shouted, “DON’T!” as loudly as my voice allowed.
He pulled back. I don’t know what he responded as he tried to make his case stronger and louder, the blood in my ears was pounding so fiercely that I couldn’t even hear my own music any longer.
I was livid.
The sheer audacity this man had to think he could lay hands on someone else’s body. I am from a country originally colonized by Puritans, DO NOT GET IN MY SPACE and certainly keep your uninvited paws OFF OF MY PERSON.
There were other passengers staring, more now than before, but no one made any sort of movement in our direction.
The train was slowing— we would shortly be arriving at King’s Cross and this almost exclusively unique-to-the-female-sex nightmare would be over.
He stood up and moved to the extreme end of our section of the train but continued his impassioned diatribe. The train stopped, I exited, and from that moment until I was out of the underground, I looked over my shoulder to make sure he wasn’t behind me.
On the walk, I thought about how unfair it was that I had to deal with that nonsense so early in the morning, how I didn’t understand how a simple, yet polite, rejection would have caused someone to get so angry. How he might have attacked me if he was truly unhinged.
I thought about how nervous I was to be traveling to a major metropolitan city after a terrorist attack had marred another a few days earlier, and I thought about who would contact my family if something happened to me, and how—and how many days until someone could get word to my boss.
I was terrified.
“That’s what they want,” I thought, “don’t give them what they want.”
I swallowed back the tears threatening to pour out of my eyes and traveled up the escalators to the main lobby of King’s Cross Station. I walked a little to my left, dazed by the adrenaline surge, and not sure where to go.
And right on cue, just when I needed it the most, was Platform 9¾.
And because I tend to overanalyze and ascribe meaning to things that aren’t necessarily logical, my brain and my heart cleared. “It’s a sign. You’re ok.”
Harry Potter is all about resisting evil, being brave in moments of adversity, and using one’s intellect to combat prejudice, hatred, and other awful things that life throws in your way.
Like they have been doing for many years before now, Harry and J.K. were reminding me that I’m made of sterner stuff.
I’m writing this on the train to Scotland, reenergized and renewed.